A Mask Behind A Mask

I turned around and started walking back. It was over. Bullet by bullet, drop by drop, it was over. In the end, I wouldn’t say I was surprised, or sad. I always knew this was coming. I knew it when I woke up this morning and I knew it when I was woken up, five days back. They didn’t need to convince me. I was ready.

It was five in the morning. The sky was still dark. They were apologetic for waking me up so early. I courteously invited them in and made them feel at home. As they were pulling down the blinds, I made them some coffee. They sat down in the living room. They were three people but there wasn’t any chatter. The air was tense. I put the coffee tray in the middle and sat down in front of them. They seemed edgy, probably unsure of where to start. I could tell. They were looking at each other and then to me, shifting uncomfortably in their seats. I tried to break the silence with some small talk about the weather but there was no response. Nobody was willing to start. There was only one way left. I had made them wait enough. “I’ll do it. You can count on me,” I said, staring straight into their eyes. It was enough to calm every atom of the room. The creases in their forehead relaxed and they touched their coffee for the first time. We then talked lightly about many things, from the weather, the rising prices to football and Che Guevara.

After a few minutes, one of them received a call. He didn’t answer it but looked at the other two, who nodded in response. They all got up at once. One of them stepped forward, put a .40 on the table and swiftly stepped back. One by one, they shook my hands. I walked them out of the door. Within seconds, they had disappeared. As I closed the door, the sun was ready to rise.

I had been feeling weaker every morning since that day. I would wake up sweating with a weird feeling that I was talking in my sleep. The nightmares had started again. It was like I had travelled five years back in time. I had never been able to sleep well since but with help over the years, I had managed to repress my nightmares. But since that morning, it had all come pouring out with added pain. But I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t angry. I was satisfied. I needed this pain, these nightmares. They gave me strength, purpose, direction. They were all I had been left with since that fateful day and they were all I needed now. Without the pain, I was left a hollow numb shell, wearing a mask for the world. Today was the strongest I had felt in years.

I had already canvassed the place three times. There were sensors everywhere. Carrying weapons was futile. I had planted my .40 just as they finished scanning the place yesterday. I made my way in and retrieved it. But carrying it till I was near the stage was the hard part. I had to pass another sensor and from here on out, there were snipers and cameras everywhere. They were here too, those three people. They and ten of their people, camouflaged within the crowd, waiting to step in in case my knees gave way. Their organization was too big, too strong. One way or the other, things were to happen today. It was up to me to do it my way. For those I serve… and for those I loved.

I knocked the patrolling guard unconscious, drugged him, hid him in one of the empty rooms down the hall and took his uniform. He still didn’t have the clearance to where I had to be but it wasn’t too far. I repeated the procedure with two more security officers whose absence wouldn’t be immediately revealing, hiding them in places where no one would go immediately looking and I was set. I only needed a minute.

Almost the entire audience had already gathered and more people were still coming to their allotted seats. I walked along with two of the dignitaries pretending to show them to their seats, once their identities were verified. I knew those names. I was waiting for them. They were seated on the second row. I was finally there. I looked around me. I could finally see it all. It was time.

The president was standing right in front me, waving to the audience. My hand reached for my holster. My commanding officer was standing right beside the president. As was his deputy. I nodded to my commanding officer and he nodded back. This exchange didn’t escape the deputy’s attention as he gave me a look full of horror, betrayal and disgust rolled into one raging stare, took his gun out and aimed at the president. He was the only one of those ten men I didn’t know about. It was their leverage and their trump card. It had to be someone really close. Now that I knew, it was showtime.

One to his chest – a nimble turn behind – one each to the heads of those three men and two more to those suave gentlemen sitting behind them. Six down, four to go. I spent two seconds standing at one spot. The snipers just missed me as I made a run into the mayhem of the crowd. They couldn’t risk shooting at me now. I was safe. But the president wasn’t. The four of them had split up and were moving in on the president. It was then that I saw his face. He was there too, among those four. Five years since I last saw him. Five years since I’ve been expecting, planning, waiting. Finally.

I didn’t need to be in the crowd anymore. It was all or nothing. Two more shots, two more down. He and the other guy were still gaining on the president from either sides. They were well camouflaged. I was in the open and under fire from the snipers again. The snipers, they couldn’t have known about me. Nobody could. That was the only way. I ran to the stage, zig-zagging my way through, aiming at those two. I got the other one as I got one from the snipers on my leg. I had come too far to slow down now. He was within shooting distance. I jumped on to the stage as I got another one on my shoulder. We were face to face. I could see his eyes. He had no idea who I was, what he meant to me. As I raised my gun to rip a hole in his heart, I got another one on my other leg. It didn’t matter. I pulled the trigger, he fell.

I turned around and started walking back. Hellfire blazed through the sky, from all corners, upon me. It was over. Bullet by bullet, drop by drop, it was over. In the end, I wouldn’t say I was surprised, or sad. I always knew this was coming. I knew it when I woke up this morning and I knew it when I was woken up, five years back. They didn’t need to convince me. I was ready. It was time to go home.

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